Catching Fire

High temperatures in summer is no news most places. Except in Ireland, where if it gets much above 20C/65F, we swelter, broil, boil and fry. Partly, it has to do with living in northwest Ireland without a cloud of pollution overhead. The sun is particularly intense here. I have had more sunburns since moving here than anywhere else I have lived. That includes beach time at the Jersey shore in childhood. So it has been an interesting June watching our south-facing field fry in relentless sunshine, seeing the thermometer register 45C at 5pm one day.

So fire and dry heat has been a theme. We are now back to normal ‘good Irish summer’ temperatures in the low twenties, with humidity. I strongly suspect a poem on the theme of steam may emerge over this coming week.

Catching Fire

 

The earth under my feet

is mostly made of peat.

 

We have been a month without rain,

since Whitsuntide at least.

 

The earth under my feet is cracking.

I could flake it.  Snap off a chunk.

 

Set it alight. If anyone wanted to bother

burning some in the grate.

 

This summer’s sun is intense enough

to take a match to the bog.

 

The earth under my feet,

this rich, black gold,

 

is not yet smouldering, but

may burst into flame

 

any moment now.

Just exhaling could fan a flame.

 

Tongues of fire

will speak their pure language,

 

purgation.

It’s a gift.

 

Later, many months later,

the birch will begin.

 

First one, then a sister sprouting

a twin, triplets,

 

a family of trees telling

the whole story, chapter by chapter.

 

 

Copyright © 2018 Bee Smith

 

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Hansel and Gretel Reconsidered

Fairy tales are the gateways to our collective consciousness. My mother viewed them as too violent and disturbing, so I was exposed to only the most sanitized Golden Book versions. But perhaps we do children a disservice by not exposing them to parables of the ugly and extreme. Take Hansel and Gretel, for instance. Various sources suggest it grew out of Germany’s Thirty Years War, when the power struggles of that day laid waste to the land. The backdrop of that fairy tale is one of violence, famine and the threat of extinction.  It is a rock and hard place survival tale that resonates with current events.

The arc of the fairytale begins with traumatic circumstances not of a parent’s agency. Here it is famine, but you could insert any rock and hard place scenario where survival is the outcome sought. There is parental dispute that results in a strategy of child abandonment as the best of the worst options.  The children are lured by a gingerbread house promising sweet somethings (rather like the City on the Hill.) They are kidnapped, the boy caged and the girl impressed into domestic service. Cannibalism is just on the horizon.  But the children outwit their captor and are reunited with the more sympathetic of the parents.

Our collective unconscious tells us that we have been here before in our latest Hansel and Gretel moment. We have parents facing all sorts of rock and hard place circumstances not of their creation – famine, gangland, state-sponsored or domestic violence. The children are set apart from their parents and are, in that age-old metaphor for wilderness and danger, wandering in the woods. But today’s children, like Hansel and Gretel, probably already know just how wild and violent the supposedly civilised world can be.

Possibly, the collective unconsciousness will also castigate parents who cannot keep children safe. In various versions, the poor woodcutter father is weak, the mother/stepmother consumed by wanting to survive at any costs; in some versions, she is driven insane by the hunger. To judge the parents from a viewpoint of comfort and safety is to miss the wisdom of the parable. The ideal is for parents to keep their children safe and place their welfare above all others. The reality is the rock, the hard place, and what seems the inevitable horrific outcome.

As the fairytale progresses there is a kidnapping, once the children have been lured by the promise of sweet sustenance. One of the children in caged; the other enslaved. The hag/witch is a wonderfully worked out piece of malevolence in aid of self-preservation.

But the children prove to be both quick-witted and brave. The witch is blind – both naturally near-sighted and being hampered by the butter Gretel smears on her spectacles. The boy extends a femur through the cage, convincing the witch he is not fat enough for feasting on just yet. They play for time. And then it is Gretel who acts. She tricks the witch to poke her head in the oven to check the temperature, pushing her in and slamming the door on her fate.

Replete on gingerbread bricks and mortar, the children make their way back to their remorseful father.

The mother/step-mother is dead. The crone/hag is dead. Long live the maiden who has survived.

The fairytale Hansel and Gretel makes for an interesting feminist consideration. The father is weak and indecisive, ultimately passive. The son has lots of strategies – pebble and bread crumb paths – that are ultimately useless. It is the women in the story who act. The mother/stepmother knows something must be done to ensure she survives (although she doesn’t by the end of the tale). The hag/witch knows how to lure her supper, but she also comes to a bad ending. It is the  maiden who resorts to homicide, albeit with mitigating  circumstances, who frees herself and her caged brother. Not a classic happy ending, more Quentin Tarantino.

Nor is it the classic view of woman as passive. Here, women act and violently. Some might argue it is biology driving the survival of the species. But we also see the seeds of how women are viewed as the ultimate dangerous destroyers.  In every aspect – maiden, mother, crone – women are the engines of the plot. The maiden triumphs – like Spring – and survives for her to enact the wheel of life. One can only hope that she will meet less traumatic events as mother and wise woman/crone.

One interpretation of David Cameron’s parliamentary ‘Calm down’ to a woman MP might be that riled women, when up against the wall, are not going to face the firing squad without lobbing a few salvos first. Similarly, one calls to mind Senator Elizabeth Warren being silenced with “nonetheless, she persisted.”    Both male politicians were patronising, but that may also mask the unconscious fear that the progenators/creators can also destroy.  Fear drives patriarchy. But for women with an active ‘good enough’ mother psychological archetype, you mess with kids at your peril.

The denouement of Hansel and Gretel has the passive father showing remorse for his giving in to (his now deceased) wife.  He is forgiven.

We like to think that parents are in charge, that they will protect and cherish their children always. Many can blissfully bypass the rock and hard place decisions, but not all. Would that we could all be a happy species, living peacefully, treating one another always respectfully.

We are now in an upended reality where high-school students are lecturing their elders in Congress to change the law to stop random gun violence. We are seeing children forcibly separated from their parents and detained in cages.

The adults have let the kids badly down. We have not wisely negotiated the rocks and often run aground on the hard places. Let us hope with a show of remorse and shame that they will find the grace to forgive us.

It seems that that, and the children, are our best hope.

Copyright © 2018 Bee Smith

 

Sometimes Only a Poem Will Do

When a photo cannot do justice only a poem will do

You may not see these midsummer nights

the long twilight stretching pink fingers

out from the palm of midnight

across the western horizon.

But I can.

Furthermore,

a plumping moon eight months gone

glows

Her soft satisfied light bluing the night,

the trees, their leaves.

Venus sparkles stage right.

The Fat Lady and her twinkling diminutive friend

pierce the gathering dark

with their different brightness.

Elated, I run down the lane in my pyjamas,

greeting both like long lost women friends

ones unmet since we shared our youth,

our brightness lighting up the dark.

Metamorphosis

Tmy creative colleague Morag Donald gives an excellent account of our joint Cavan Youth Arts Lab earlier this year.

Morag Donald Creative Healing

As a self employed woman living near the border between the north and south of Ireland, my work comes in all shapes, sizes and locations. I was lucky enough to work recently on a project with a good friend Bee Smith in County Cavan. It was part of a wider project funded by Peace IV which focuses on border towns most affected historically by the troubles.  Our project along with ten others, in diverse media, were facilitated through the fantastically creative Cavan Youth Arts Lab. Cavan is a mainly rural county of around 3500 people who’s Art’s office is passionate about access to the arts for all.

Under the umbrella of Diversity and Ambition we worked with a group of girls from the Templeport Foróige youth group aged 11-14. We wanted to look at diversity within the group as well as within each individual member, their own diverse range of…

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Summer Sunlight Potpourri

Yes, we need health services where docs will have the time to read the notes before they see patients.

We need hospital beds where people in crisis can be safe.

We need politicians with the will to make it happen. Because all the charity fund raising in the world will,not staunch the flow of suicide until we have services that are easily accessible to those in crisis.

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Due to the recent suicides of designer, Kate Spade and chef, Anthony Bourdain, many people have posted well-meant messages on social media.  For example, they urge people who are depressed to call a hotline, or they remind people considering suicide that they have value, or, well, you get it.  And I don’t think that’s a bad idea, but the ever-brilliant Athenae explains why it’s not enough.   explains why it’s not enough.  I hope she won’t mind if I quote her quite extensively here.

When I was thinking of making a hole in the Chicago river back in 2014, or 2004, or 6 weeks ago, I KNEW I WAS LOVED. I KNEW THERE WERE HOTLINES. I KNEW PEOPLE CARED. You know what I thought? “The people who love me are idiots who’ll come to realize how wrong they were.”
Depression LIES TO YOU. About everything, but especially about how smart…

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Turtle Tours on Turtle Island

In my tour guide role, I had the privelege to share some of my very favourite special places with a Canadian client this weekend. Suzy says she is doing a ‘Turtle Tour’. She saved for ten years to make her epic odyssey to Ireland. We have been corresponding and Facebooking for at least the last two years. And now we meet as friends and what a joy to meet a fellow sojourner who savours their trek and pauses to take the pulse of presence in a place.

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At St. Hugh’s Well, Ballinagleragh, Leitrim

Suzy says she is a on a ‘Turtle Tour’ because she is not a hareing around kind of person. She takes it slow and steady, taking time to process the sights, smells, sounds, and taste of place.

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Hands On the Boulder Tomb, Cavan Burren

And I have her to thank for clarifying my own work. I really am a Turtle Tour Guide. I stroll. I stop and stare. I like to take the time to mindfully be in the moment in a place. I might even stop to jot a haiku if that is gifted in the moment. And planet earth is sometimes called Turtle Island. Slow Travel – or Turtle Tours – are what I feel exemplifies sustainable, environmentally friendly travel for our precious planet.

You can keep up with all ten weeks of Suzy’s sojourn on her blog Suzy’s Epic Irish Odyssey. We bonded over our love of rock. Her excuse is that she comes from a lineage full of stone masons. I am still not sure what it is with me about rocks. (Incidentally, she got to share the same bus with the friend who was quoted in a previous blog. Such is the minimal degree of separation in Ireland. He made us our coffee today!)

Left: Sweathouse, Leitrim

Right: Boulder Tomb, Cavan Burren

Suzy spent time today at Cavan Burren Park. Most people automatically think Burren – Clare! Not so, though. There is more than one stoney place in Ireland. I have an artist friend, Amanda Jane Graham, who characterises the Cavan Burren as Ireland’s ‘Fluffy’ Burren because there is so much moss, lichen, leaf and green. So now we are referring to the Clare Burren as the ‘Baldy Burren.’ Ye can’t fault us for being boosterish of our local Burren!

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Ireland’s ‘Fluffy’ Burren in Cavan

And you can never really discount the magic – or sheer weird woo-woo stuff – that comes in when you are receptive. I had been hoping that Suzy would get to hear the cuckoo calling. I heard it and then, as we approached what feels like holy ground in the Cavan Burren forest, the cuckoo called – very loudly, very long, a much longer call lasting at least thirty seconds.  At first, I thought it was my husband, teasing us. But that was not the case. But it did happen just after I said, “Maybe the Cuckoo is calling especially for the Cucksons! ” (My husband’s family name is Cuckson.) I was mildly freaked out at the time, it was so up close and so unusual. Maybe it was a fairy teasing me!

It is always an honour to meet someone real world after acquaintance online. It is even more special when they intuitively ‘get you.’ Suzy gifted me items that made me feel very understood.  One was a Vancouver First Nations charm of a frog, which represents connection. And I know Suzy probably had in  mind a poem on this blog that has a refrain ‘Connection is the cure.’

More poignant was a little silver necklace with a pillar inscribed with this quotation, which she felt summed me up. We are mosaics, pieces of light, love, history, stars glued together with magic, music and word.

That really does sum up my life. So, thank you, Suzy for ‘seeing me’. I shall cherish this along with your presence as you graced the day,  your appreciation of the glory that is the corner of my particular part of Turtle Island.

So if you, too, want to make like a tortoise to experience Ireland on a ‘turtle tour’, I am your woman to guide ye!  You can contact me here.

What Remains

In Ireland, death is highly ritualised. Wherever a person dies, almost invariably ‘the remains’ are brought home. There is the wake with neighbours, friends, and extended family visiting the deceased, who is usually laid out in the best room, all coming to say goodbye, praying the rosary, drinking tea, eating sandwiches. Then the house may go private to family only before ‘the removal.’ The remains are removed from home to the church the night before the funeral and a service is held to welcome the coffin.  There are forms of words and people who may  not have visited the funeral house line up to sympathise with the family, shake hands, say “I am sorry for your loss.” Then the funeral, the commital for burial or cremation. Over three days, the bereaved waver on that liminal place of letting go. Each sympathiser dins the reality home. You have lost a loved one.  That is a sorry thing.

This poem circles around that certain funereal terminology – the remains.

Remains

1.

The remains.

Not corpse.

Not carcasse.

Not cadaver.

The sinew

the beloved bones

the convex and concave planes

of beloved face.

 

2.

A wood coffin.

A casket full of a once bejewelled life.

A willow woven basket

its warp and weft a living thing.

The stone sarcophagus.

A memorial cold as

the cold, cold ground.

Catacombs.

A city  of the dead

skulls and crossed bones huddled together.

Balm for those extrovert spirits.

Purgatory for solitary souls.

The Crem.

Burning what remains to ash.

Remembering how we began as dust

and to dust we shall return.

 

3.

When the dust settles.

When the motes no longer dance.

Those atoms waltzing in a certain slant of light.

What remains of settled dust?

The light. The light.

That remains.

 

Copyright © 2018 Bee Smith